The Bulls have endured their worst start to a Super Rugby season in over a decade after losing four of their five matches thus far and are rooted amongst the bottom teams in the South African conference.
Manuel has conceded that they have not been at their best on the field and over and above the management taking responsibility for what has unraveled in the past few weeks, it will be up to the players to give their best to ensure that they get back to winning ways in bringing the curtain down on a short but disastrous tour that has seen them sink to two successive defeats to the Blues and Chiefs.
A former South African schools and provincial fullback, Manuel, revealed that there has been a frank and honest discussion between management and players about how they can fix the problems that have led to their demise and an understanding that at their best, the Bulls will certainly return to being on the right side of the scoreboard.
“There is a huge emphasis on ownership and players taking responsibility and keeping themselves accountable for their own standards and performances,” Manuel said from Tokyo on Tuesday.
“They are professionals and leaders in their own right and they must make sure as individuals that they are honest with themselves and they are responsible for their job description and bring it to the team context. There has been a huge chat about that and if everybody can do that and bring it to the game, we will be better off.”
As much as the players will have to put their best foot forward on Saturday, Manuel says management also have to shoulder some of the responsibility of turning the team’s fortunes around and that they have identified some of the areas of concern that has seen them sink to lows last seen in the early 2000s during Heyneke Meyer’s first tenure as Bulls boss.
“There’s been a lot of chats amongst the coaches. We have identified a couple of things and been working on them weekly,” Manuel said.
“Obviously we’ve not seen the results and hopefully it will manifest itself this weekend against the Sunwolves. We are aware of things we need to work on and get better to make sure the results are in our favour.”
The Bulls fickle defence has been a major cause of concern but its failings stem from the team’s lack of dominance in the set-piece and their sterile attack which prevented the men from Pretoria from capitalising on some of the opportunities they created against the Chiefs and the Blues.
As porous as the Bulls have been in the last quarter of their matches in New Zealand, their play has not been without any endeavor to try play some decent rugby but they often find themselves making bad decisions in the final moments of having to land the fatal blow.
That bad decision making according to Manuel has not only hindered them on attack but it has contributed largely to their failings on defence when placed under the pump in the last minutes, as was evident in the game against the Chiefs.
“If you take the Blues game we had a plan and applied it most of the game. Our challenge in the last 20 minutes of the game is our lack of discipline in executing the plan for 80 minutes,” Manuel added.
“The big lesson we’ve learnt from the Chiefs is that the game is about inches and the New Zealand teams are good especially when you make a mistake and don’t have the discipline to play for 80 minutes. They will exploit it and will capitalize on it. I think a bit of patience is needed from our side.
“We get a bit over anxious and over excited and that leads to bad decisions with ball in hand and the Blues and Chiefs were just good in exploiting the mistakes that we made. We’ve put a huge emphasis on conversion rate, making sure when we get there we get the points.
“I think we did that well against the Chiefs and that led to a good half where we led and once again the last 20 minutes we just had ill-discipline and we got punished for it. We’ve had a good chat about that during this week and we want to fix that against the Sunwolves and moving on in this competition.”
Manuel says their focus this week will be on making sure that they achieve success in their conversion rate and learn to make better decisions when it matters the most and that a lack of conditioning has nothing to do with how they have faded off in the latter stages of their matches as of late.
“No I don’t think so (about a lack of conditioning contributing to fading off). For us as management it is just a matter of concentration and being mature enough in our decision-making at the right times and right scenarios and situations,” he said.
“If you look at our review every player knows that they made decisions that they shouldn’t have made in that given situation. It was just bad decisions and that led to the result getting big enough. But it definitely is not a fitness thing. We’ve had an awesome preseason and have worked hard on our conditioning and it is not one of our challenges currently.”